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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Outcasts and Angels: The New Anthology of Deaf Characters in Literature
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Marina dozed for about half an hour before her wristwatch began to vibrate in response to the baby’s cries. Grant came in to make sure she was awake. “Sorry, sweetheart,” he signed. “I-know exhausted you. If I can feed baby from”—he pointed to his chest, grinning a little—“I change-places-with-you.”

“I wish,” Marina signed, yawning. She sat up and rearranged her clothes to expose a breast.

Grant grimaced ironically. “But you lucky. You not must hear sweet baby scream he.” He picked the baby up and handed him to Marina, who smiled and settled him in the crook of her arm. He hunted for the nipple and she positioned it for him, pressing the breast back so he could breathe.

The truth was, she almost regretted not being able to hear him. She was completely in love. He fit so perfectly into her arm. She loved the weight of him there against her chest, the baby-smell of him. He was beautiful, he was perfect. The pull she felt as he nursed satisfied something deep inside her. With a start, she realized she was humming to him. She could feel the thrumming deep in her chest.

She glanced up, and discovered that Grant had left the room. Almost guiltily, she began humming again. The baby closed his eyes and suckled sweetly.

The next afternoon brought an unexpected visitor. Marina happened to be up getting a glass of orange juice when the lights began flashing, short-short-long. She walked to the front door and pushed a button on the panel. Red LED words appeared on the tiny screen: [Visitor for Marina Carmichael: Jeffrey Langford . . . ID CONFIRMED]

She blinked, surprised, then opened the door. Jeff smiled awkwardly. “Hi! Come on in,” she said. Grant came up as he did so. “Grant, this is Jeff Langford.”

“Hi,” Grant said aloud. He extended a hand, and the two men shook. Marina tugged at Jeff ’s other arm. “Come on,” she urged, “come see the baby.” She led him back to her room, where the baby was nestled in the wicker bassinet next to her bed. She pulled the interpreter out of the bag she’d brought from the hospital and thumbed it on.

[He’s beautiful,] Jeff said. He looked concerned, though, and Marina touched his arm.

“He’s fine,” she said. “We’re both fine.”

He nodded, but the worried look didn’t dissipate. “What’s his name?” he asked.

“I don’t know, yet.” She smiled. “We wanted to get to know him first, before we picked out a permanent name.”

Jeff nodded. Marina gazed down at the baby. She touched one tiny curled hand, marveling at its softness.

Jeff touched her arm to get her attention. [You should talk to him, you know. Babies respond to the sound of their mothers’ voices.] She looked up in time to catch his wistful smile. “And I always told you you had a beautiful voice.”

She gave a small laugh, even though she didn’t think the joke was very funny. Jeff didn’t smile at all, and suddenly the expression on his face registered. It was more than just concern, it was . . . guilt. He wouldn’t meet her eyes. Dread settled in the pit of her stomach.

“What,” she said. When he didn’t reply, she said it again, loud enough that she could feel the rumble in her chest. “Jeff, what!”

He looked away, then back, defiantly. “He’s not deaf, Marina. I didn’t do it.”

Marina thought she must have misunderstood, but the words were there on her screen, in stark and terrible confirmation. She turned and stared at the sleeping baby. Hearing. My child is hearing. It didn’t mean anything to her yet.

“Why.” It was all she could think of to say. But before he could answer, the rest exploded from her in a rush. “I thought you understood, how important it was, you said— Oh! You never told me! Nine-months pregnant I, you-tell-me nothing, all-time baby hearing!” She began to cry. “Why? Why you do this? Why not youtell- me beginning ‘no, can’t help-you I’?”

He was staring at her, confused, and she realized that she had stopped vocalizing and was only signing, hands jerking with grief and anger. She forced herself to slow down and speak.

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